Wheaton College professor may be fired for Facebook post: UPDATE

Update, 2:45 p.m. CT:

Dr. Larycia Hawkins spoke at a press conference today, also reported by the RNS. At First United Methodist Church in Chicago, stating

“Wheaton College cannot scare me into walking away from the truth (that) all humans –Muslims, the vulnerable, the oppressed of any ilk ­– are all my sisters and brothers, and I am called by Jesus to walk with them.”

Hawkins has received support from both Christian and Muslim leaders:

Several religious leaders, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Ahmed Rehab of CAIR Chicago, the local chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, expressed their support for Hawkins.

It “did not to me cause me to wonder whether she was diluting the message of Christianity, but rather taught me what Jesus is about,” Rehab said.

The college placed Hawkins on paid administrative leave Dec. 15, and she responded in writing to questions regarding her theological convictions two days later. The provost assured her that would be sufficient, she said, before she was asked for further theological discussion and clarification.

To Hawkins, it felt like “the rules changing, the goalposts keep moving,” and she declined to answer more questions. She and Wheaton now have reached what the college has termed an “impasse.”


Earlier today, 10:24 a.m. CT:

Religion News Service reports:

A Christian professor who wrote on Facebook that Christians and Muslims “worship the same God” may be losing her tenured post at Wheaton College, the Illinois school known as the “evangelical Harvard.”

The college has begun an “employment action” that could cost Larycia Hawkins her job as history professor at the school where she has taught since 2007, a college spokesperson told Christianity Today.

On Monday (Jan. 4), the college provost, Stanton Jones, gave her a  “Notice of Recommendation to Initiate Termination-for-Cause Proceedings,” according to Wheaton’s website.

The Wheaton site the RNS report links to, http://www.wheaton.edu/Media-Center/Media-Relations/Statements/Statement-Regarding-Notice-of-Recommendation-to-Initiate-Termination-of-Dr-Hawkins, no longer exists, but the college has published a statement here, excerpted:

Wheaton College can confirm reports that on January 4, 2016, per College policies and procedures, Provost Stanton Jones delivered to President Philip Ryken and to Dr. Larycia Hawkins a Notice of Recommendation to Initiate Termination-for-Cause Proceedings regarding Dr. Hawkins.

The Notice is not a termination; rather, it begins Wheaton College’s established process for employment actions pertaining to tenured faculty members.

This Notice follows the impasse reached by the parties. Following Dr. Hawkins’ written response on December 17 to questions regarding her theological convictions, the College requested further theological discussion and clarification. However, as posted previously, Dr. Hawkins declined to participate in further dialogue about the theological implications of her public statements and her December 17 response.

The statement outlines the college’s next steps: a hearing by the Faculty Personnel Committee, which will make a recommendation to the President from both the committee and Provost Jones, followed by a decision by the college board of trustees.

From Christianity Today:

Over the past month, Hawkins has posted on her Facebook and Twitter statements including “I stand in human solidarity with my Muslim neighbor,” “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” and an assertion that Christians and Muslims “worship the same God.”

The statements were part of Hawkins’s explanation for why she was pledging to wear a hijab during Advent in support of her Muslim neighbors. But the hijab wasn’t the reason she was suspended in December, according to the college.

“Dr. Hawkins’s administrative leave resulted from theological statements that seemed inconsistent with Wheaton College’s doctrinal convictions,” the college stated. It later explained, “While Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic, we believe there are fundamental differences between the two faiths, including what they teach about God’s revelation to humanity, the nature of God, the path to salvation, and the life of prayer.”

Hawkins told Chicago Tonight that her statements “absolutely” did not repudiate that. “What I said in my post has been affirmed by the Christian church for centuries and has been affirmed by many prominent evangelicals,” she said.

Muslims and Christians worship the same God “differently,” she said. “In no way did I make a moral equivalency between Jesus and Muhammad or Islam and Christianity. That would be offensive to my Muslim friends and to my Christian friends to pretend that the religions are the same, that they’re not different, either in practice or theology.”

“It wasn’t a theological treatise,” Hawkins said. “It was simply a Facebook post inviting people into a bigger narrative about embodied solidarity with Muslims, who are currently being maligned and mistreated for their religious devotion.”

According to the Chicago Tribune, this is not the first time Hawkins has been taken to task by the college:

Hawkins has been asked to affirm the college’s statement of faith four times since she started teaching at Wheaton nearly nine years ago. She was first admonished for writing an academic paper about what Christians could learn from black liberation theology, which relates the Bible with the often-troubled history of race relations in America. Jones said Hawkins’ article seemed to endorse a kind of Marxism.

She was called in a year later to defend a photograph someone posted on Facebook showing her at a party inside a home on Halsted Street the same day as Chicago’s Pride Parade. Last spring she was asked to affirm the statement again after suggesting that diversifying the college curriculum should include diplomatic vocabulary for conversations around sexuality.

The Tribune also quotes Hawkins’ attorney:

Hawkins’ attorney Robert Bloch, who also represents the Chicago Teachers Union, said Hawkins will fight the efforts to fire her but that he doesn’t know whether the proceedings halt negotiations between the professor and the college.

“I can’t at this point ascertain whether that signals an end of the process or not,” Bloch said. “We’re certainly prepared to continue to resolve our differences with the college.”

Episcopal Cafe’s previous coverage of this can be found here.

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